Alumni Startup Chosen for $225,000 NSF Grant

From left: Flavia Araujo, Michael Dunavant, and Jared Greer of Lapovations LLC.
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From left: Flavia Araujo, Michael Dunavant, and Jared Greer of Lapovations LLC.

A medical device company started as part of a University of Arkansas entrepreneurship class has earned a $225,000 grant to finish development of a device to make minimally-invasive abdominal surgeries safer for patients and better for surgeons.

Lapovations LLC was formed in the graduate-level New Venture Development Course taught by Carol Reeves, associate vice chancellor for entrepreneurship and innovation. The team includes alumni from the College of Engineering and the Sam. M. Walton College of Business.

Lapovations' chief executive officer is Jared Greer, a 2018 graduate of the biomedical engineering department master's program. While at the U of A, the team, which included Walton College graduates Flavia Araujo and Michael Dunavant, won more than $300,000 in prize money from startup competitions across the country. The sum was a record for a University of Arkansas student startup team.

Lapovations' most recent support is a Small Business Innovation Research Phase I grant from the National Science Foundation.

The grant will allow the company to finish the development of AbGrab, a trademarked Class 1 medical device used to non-invasively lift the abdominal wall at the start of laparoscopic surgery. Major complications are rare in laparoscopic surgery but can be serious or even fatal when they occur.

Most often, major complications occur when instruments are first inserted into the abdominal cavity, prior to the insertion of the camera that provides visibility into the cavity. To minimize this risk, surgeons lift the abdominal wall away from vital organs that could be inadvertently punctured during these initial steps. Two lifting techniques are commonly used, but unlike those which use mechanical force, AbGrab utilizes suction and is more reliable and less invasive.

Its projected benefits include better surgical outcomes, increased surgeon and patient satisfaction and decreased patient post-op pain.

Greer said the ability to learn about engineering and business simultaneously played a key role in moving Lapovations forward.

"Our time at the U of A was a critical contributor to what Lapovations has accomplished so far," he said.  "AbGrab was the focus of my biomedical engineering master's thesis, so we worked closely with the department on early product development and testing. Department Head Dr. Raj Rao and Dean John English are doing a great job fostering an entrepreneurial spirit within the College of Engineering that allows companies like ours to flourish.

"Another key contributor to our success has been what we learned in the New Venture Development class taught by Dr. Carol Reeves in the Walton College. Dr. Reeves is a tireless worker who, with the support of Dean Matt Waller, has built Walton College into an entrepreneurial powerhouse. We are very fortunate to have resources like the Walton College and the College of Engineering that allow a cross-disciplinary group such as Lapovations to achieve success."

Rao, head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, said Greer's success was a positive indicator for the program.

"We are really excited one of our alumni is actively pursuing the entrepreneurial route based on guidance and training obtained in our graduate programs," Rao said. "Lapovations is a great example of the need to build an innovation ecosystem and graduate programs that will rely on collective expertise from engineering and business."

Contacts

Nick DeMoss, director of communications
College of Engineering
479-575-5697, ndemoss@uark.edu

David Speer, senior director of communications
Sam M. Walton College of Business
479-575-2539, dlspeer@uark.edu

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